Valve Part 6: Beyond the Crowbar... And Beyond

Uploaded by machinima on 23.11.2009

After ten amazing years of innovation and profit, Valve had become famous for many things:
namely, Half-Life, Half-Life, Half-Life, and Half-Life. Though they had acquired some outside
mods such as Counter-Strike, and developed a few projects like Portal, these were always
tied back to Half-Life. So as was typical with Valve, they surprised the gaming world
again when they announced that their title for 2008 would not involve Half-Life in anyway,
shape, or form: rather, instead of Half-Life, their next game would feature undeath.
-Beyond the Crowbar-
Left 4 Dead was a zombie shooter, but with several twists to help it stand out from the
horde of other undead games. The game heavily focused on teamwork and co-operative play.
It always follows a group of four survivors, any of which can be controlled by players,
with the AI taking over the rest. As with Half-Life, the game creates an intense atmosphere
that breaks up the combat segments to give it more spooky feeling.
To this effect, Valve created “The Director,†a persistent AI that changes the game depending
on how the players are doing. For example, if four expert players are dominating, the
Director will spawn fewer ammo and health packs and more zombies, while zapping out
more lights along the way. Or, if one player is doing pretty poorly with his three bot
companions, the game will lessen the zombie horde and offer up more health packs. As such,
the game plays differently every time gamers shoot their way through the four campaigns,
adding to the replay value.
Since the undead has become popular in entertainment culture again, and given Valve’s immaculate
image, it was no suprise that the game was a huge hit. And Valve promised added goodies-to-come
with DLC.
But it just wouldn’t be in Valve’s nature to do what anyone expected. The company
shocked the gaming world when they announced that they were jumping straight into production
on the cleverly-titled Left 4 Dead 2, which would release almost a year to the day after
the original. Such a short turnaround time for a full sequel is nearly unheard of in
gaming, and led to concerns that Valve would be rushing the product to shelves.
Worse, fans of both the original Left 4 Dead and of the Half-Life series felt betrayed.
Left 4 Dead gamers feared that this sequel would supplant the release of DLC for the
original game, and would split the online community between the two products. A number
of disgruntled fans began a group promising to boycott the sequel. In barely a month,
tens of thousands of fans signed up. Meanwhile, those waiting for Half-Life 2: Episode Three
saw their hopes dashed, since Valve seemed more interested in making Infected zombies
than Headcrab zombies.
But always conscious of Valve’s community, Newell himself has publicly addressed gamers’
concerns, stating that more DLC and patches for the first game are forthcoming. And indeed,
Valve has already released two DLC updates, introducing a new multiplayer mode and a new
And despite the burgeoning boycott, Left 4 Dead 2 has received more preorders than its
predecessor. Still, for a company that has always prided itself on being the most gamer-friendly
possible, the controversy around Left 4 Dead 2 is probably the biggest setback they’ve
faced since
the HL2 hack.
If there’s one thing Valve has done consistently, it’s defy expectations.
No matter what it is they do, from developing games to launching digital platforms, Valve
has always carefully taken a look at itself and the state of the industry in order to
find new ways to push boundaries and change paradigms. As with any industry, most gaming
studios keep to the safe road with established genres or franchises, innovating very little
to be sure that the title sells. But Valve continually takes risks and gambles that no
one else has dared, occasionally finding themselvs in trouble but always pulling through with
tremendous sales and a sterling reputation. All from the minds of two guys who had never
made a game, but always knew exactly what they wanted.